How much screen time is enough?

Determine the right digital diet for your family these tips.

By Scott Steinberg


Parenting expert Scott Steinberg is the creator of the The Modern Parent’s Guide book series and host of popular video show Family Tech: Technology for Parents and Kids. Scott is hailed as a top voice for today’s high-tech generation by dozens of publications from USA Today to Forbes and NPR. A proud parent and working professional, he claims he'll sleep when they start giving away a free lifetime supply of anxiety medication with each new child.

It’s a common question facing today’s parent: With so many technology tools available to kids, including tablets, smartphones, PCs, connected TVs, portable media players and gaming devices, when should children be required to step away from the screen?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides these simple guidelines:

  • Children under two years of age should receive no screen time whatsoever.
  • Kids aged two and up should spend no more than one to two hours a day in front of monitors and displays.

However, as both the parent of a young child and as part of my role as Sears tech toy expert, I’ve quickly discovered that such simplified solutions can be hard to implement. I realize that for parents of Generation Tech—the children for whom connected and high-tech devices are second-nature—it’s not always easy to separate the sprout from the screen. Nor, ironically, is it always beneficial to do so: Surrounded by high-tech toys and tools at every turn, a growing number of solutions naturally offer increasing educational, social and practical health benefits.

When pondering screen time rules for your family, understand that no one figure fits every family or child, nor does anyone else reserve the right to decide what’s appropriate for your household. As a child, I myself whiled away many a long afternoon happily exploring cyberspace, or enmeshed in the confines of a popular video game—a practice many of today’s parents would still frown on. However, most responsible adults can agree that, as with any form of media consumption, screen time should be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy, well-balanced digital diet.

To this extent, the following tips may help you restore harmony to a household quickly being overrun by HDTVs and portable LCDs:

  • Make sure all members of your family understand and are aware of your screen time limits, and enforce these rules consistently and fairly. Note that 60 minutes of screen time makes a reasonable starting point for children aged 13 and under, while parents of teens or more mature children may wish to consider 90-minute limits.
  • Some families require that screen time be earned through chores, reinforcing that device use is a privilege, not an intrinsic right. You might set a baseline time, and then add or subtract time as a reward or punishment.
  • An equal or greater amount of time should routinely be spent enjoying alternate activities: As a rule in our own household, two hours of time must be spent outdoors or enjoying low-tech real-world activities for every one spent in front of a screen.
  • Beyond defining daily time limits, set designated off-hours at specific times during the day—for example, dinner and shared family time—during which high-tech devices should be turned off and put away.
  • Use of connected and high-tech devices should cease at least one hour before bedtime to ensure restful sleep. Some parents may wish to collect portable high-tech devices like cell phones before children retire to their rooms to ensure screen time ends when it’s supposed to.

That said, while there’s no hard and fast rule that applies to every family regarding the appropriate amount of screen time that children should enjoy, the above guidelines should help when introducing and regulating the use of high-tech devices. We invite you to experiment as needed, and share your family’s learning—it’s always a pleasure to hear how modern households are teaching kids to be responsible digital citizens.